I picked up the latest issue of Pennine Platform from work yesterday. It surprised me - much better poetry than I expected from a saddle-stitched, badly folded product with a grayscale cover image. The leading edge hadn't even been trimmed. A hint that there's been a good editorial job on the content, as it leans slightly towards a consistency of style, though there are very few glaring points of unoriginality, banality or wastage to drag me down.
In the editorial, Nicholas Bielby announces the launch of the magazine's new book publishing venture, Graft Poetry. After a brief discussion of the name - attaching the press to the magazine; hard bloody work, and associations of the Greek root, 'writing' - he announces the opening publications: Julia Deakin's Without a dog and Andrew Boobier's Reader, help me.
So far so good. Charged with ideas, an engaging introduction. And then he puts the knife in the Arts Council: "This magazine has not sought any funding from the Arts Council for many years. It is not just that to apply for funding is a long, complicated and irksome task (though it is!). It is that the Arts Council is conceived as a branch of social policy. Its aims are primarily social engineering. Sexual orientation is more important to them than quality!"
I could discuss the problems in this statement, but instead I'll just agree with the gist of it and move on.
Alarm bells start ringing in my head when people start talking about the funding of a project. The real point I want to make is about where this line is obviously heading. Bielby concludes his introduction with: "The point of my mentioning the funding of this venture is to encourage you to buy the books so that Graft Poetry can continue its work of publishing high quality poetry for a national audience. We have no other source of funds."
How do I hate these marketing techniques? Let me count the ways. Well OK, just the one: guilt. The USP is to force readers to make a decision between social responsibility towards poetry or being bastards. Talk about 'social engineering', eh? When has it ever been sensible to try and sustain an industry on a marketing campaign of guilt? And yet too much of the poetry industry is operating on this level. (Am I sounding like Neil Astley again? [Yes - ST].)
I could list a few examples, from the numerous magazines and memberships that sell themselves on the basis of longevity (i.e. 'It would be really sad if we weren't here tomorrow because of you, you bastard'), to the new magazines that pitch the worthy freshness angle ('It would be really sad if we weren't here tomorrow and you were left with all the old stuff, because of you, you bastard'). But why bother? The effect is to isolate audiences.
If you only market your poetry products in a way that says, 'Do your Duty' then you're only preaching to the converted, who know what it means to be dutifully supporting of poetry ('Poetry is DyD. RIP.'). Which is to say, people can learn to love poetry elsewhere, by accident, because they won't learn it here. Or in other words, "You'd better buy this subscription to our magazine, or otherwise you'll only spend the money on beer / crack / fast food / evil capitalist extravagances that will kill African children / crap / children / prostitutes / child prostitutes / world war - and poetry's more valuable than all of those put together, even though you might get some good poetry out of buying some of those, especially war and child prostitutes, but that's not the point because this is POETRY."